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Racism and Mental Health: Historical Perspectives on the Limits of Good Intentions

Abstract

During the 1970–1971 academic year, scholars, researchers, and activists gathered at Syracuse University to discuss the problems of racism and mental health against a backdrop of police brutality and political protest. Black and White experts discussed the problems of individual and structural racism, the effects of racism on the mental health of children, the tension between assimilation and integration, the need to reform the American Psychiatric Association and the National Institute of Mental Health regarding race issues, and the complex issue of white supremacy. Many of the discussions from fifty years before remain highly relevant as the same problems remain. This paper examines the context and content of the Syracuse conference with some reflection on what changed—and what did not. While leaders within the mental health establishment expressed intentions to address racism, shifts in methods and priorities for mental health care left intact or exacerbated many of the issues addressed a half century ago.

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Correspondence to Laura Hirshbein.

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Hirshbein, L. Racism and Mental Health: Historical Perspectives on the Limits of Good Intentions. Soc (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12115-021-00627-2

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Keywords

  • Racism
  • Psychiatry
  • American Psychiatric Association
  • National Institute of Mental Health
  • Black pride
  • Bigotry